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Stone, Lucyfree

(13 August 1818–18 October 1893)
  • Carol Lasser

Lucy Stone.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-29701 ).

Stone, Lucy (13 August 1818–18 October 1893), abolitionist and woman's rights activist, abolitionist and woman’s rights activist, was born in West Brookfield, Massachusetts, the daughter of Francis Stone and Hannah Matthews, farmers. Her hard-working parents transmitted to their daughter—one of nine children—both their abolitionist commitment and their Congregationalist faith. Young Lucy retained their radical antislavery stance but found herself increasingly distant from the Congregationalist church after its leaders criticized abolitionists Sarah Moore Grimké and Angelina Emily Grimké for unfeminine behavior in speaking to mixed audiences in churches during their 1837 tour of Massachusetts. Stone also broke with her parents in pursuit of higher education. At the age of sixteen, after completing local schools, she taught and saved money for advanced study. She attended nearby Mount Holyoke Seminary for one term in 1839, returning home to attend to the illness of a sister. Stone waited until 1843 to enroll at the Oberlin Collegiate Institute (later Oberlin College); with her graduation in 1847, she became the first Massachusetts woman to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Confirmed in both her abolitionist and feminist beliefs during her years at Oberlin, Stone gave her first public talk on woman’s rights from her brother’s pulpit in Gardner, Massachusetts, in December 1847. She was then hired as an agent for the Garrisonian Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society the following year. Admonished by her employers to cease her practice of mixing the two controversial topics in the lectures they sponsored, Stone responded, “I was a woman before I was an abolitionist” (Woman’s Journal, 15 Apr. 1893). She then proceeded to arrange to speak for the society on weekends, while reserving her weekdays for lectures on woman’s rights. A popular orator, Stone garnered praise from William Lloyd Garrison’s paper, the Liberator, for her “conversational tone… . She is always earnest, but never boisterous, and her manner no less than her speech is marked by a gentleness and refinement which puts prejudice to flight” (25 Aug. 1848). In addition, she played a leading role in the burgeoning woman’s rights movement, serving as an organizer for its first national convention in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850.

Until 1855 Stone was in perpetual motion, lecturing across the country for feminism and abolitionism and related reforms, including temperance, dress reform, and married women’s access to property rights and to divorce. Her own marriage in 1855 to Cincinnati hardware merchant Henry B. Blackwell, however, slowed her pace. A fellow abolitionist and the brother of pioneer women doctors Elizabeth Blackwell and Emily Blackwell, Henry Blackwell joined with Stone in celebrating their union with a protest against the legal inequalities of husband and wife. He also supported Stone in her decision later that year to reclaim her birth name as her legal signature. In 1856 Stone’s family network was further augmented when her dear friend and Oberlin classmate, Antoinette Brown (Antoinette L. B. Blackwell), the first woman ordained in a regular Protestant denomination, married Henry Blackwell’s brother Samuel Charles Blackwell. While Stone maintained visibility within the abolitionist and woman’s rights conventions, she also devoted considerable energy to her husband’s struggle to establish himself, first in Chicago as a publisher’s representative, then in northern New Jersey, and to her only child, Alice Stone Blackwell, who was born in 1857. Despite her family responsibilities, Stone nonetheless protested her disfranchisement in 1858 by allowing the seizure of her household goods at her Orange, New Jersey, home rather than pay taxes levied by a government in which she could not participate.

During the Civil War, Stone joined other feminist-abolitionists to found the Woman’s National Loyal League, an organization committed to the full emancipation and enfranchisement of African Americans. When Reconstruction began, Stone became a founder of the American Equal Rights Association (AERA), a union of woman’s rights and abolition supporters determined to support the extension of voting rights irrespective of both race and sex. Under its auspices, Stone made an extended tour of Kansas in 1867, campaigning for state constitutional recognition of equal rights for both women and African Americans. But federal congressional action, first on the Fourteenth Amendment, which provided civil rights for freed slaves while ensuring voter protection only for men, and then on the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal rights without regard to color while pointedly neglecting the issue of sex, angered many woman’s rights supporters. Stone ultimately resigned herself to the provision of voting rights for African-American men without concomitant enfranchisement of white or black women. Declaring “I will be thankful in my soul if any body can get out of the terrible pit” quoted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton et al., eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 2 [1881], p. 384), she continued to support the Republican party. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton felt differently, and in May 1869 they led an exodus from the AERA to form the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). The new organization refused to support constitutional changes that did not at the same time enfranchise women. Later that year, Stone, her husband, Mary Livermore, Julia Ward Howe, and others held a convention in Cleveland, at which they founded the rival American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) dedicated to achieving woman suffrage, especially through state-level legislation, while refusing to undermine achievements in African-American civil rights.

Also in 1867, Stone and Blackwell relocated their household to Dorchester, Massachusetts, and raised capital for a newspaper to be called the Woman’s Journal by selling shares in a joint stock company to Boston supporters. Livermore agreed to merge her Chicago-based reform paper, The Agitator, into the new publication, now issued from the Boston headquarters of the American Woman Suffrage Association, and remained editor in chief from the debut of the paper on 1 January 1870 until 1872, when Stone assumed primary responsibility for the weekly appearance of this official organ of the AWSA with assistance from her husband and, after 1882, their daughter, Alice.

Stone remained in demand as a suffrage speaker, addressing state legislatures, women’s clubs, collegiate alumnae, and political conventions from Colorado to Vermont, but increasingly she focused her attention on the paper, which she likened to “a big baby which never grew up, and always had to be fed.” “Devoted to the interests of woman, to her educational, industrial, legal and political equality, and especially to her right of suffrage,” the Woman’s Journal, and particularly Stone’s writing, covered a vast array of events, history, and personalities. Ironically, Stone’s principles blocked her one attempt to exercise her own right to suffrage; in 1879 she registered under the new Massachusetts law permitting women to vote in school elections, but her name was erased by officials who refused to accept her enrollment under her own, not her husband’s, surname.

For many years, Stone maintained a virulent (and reciprocated) animosity toward Stanton, Anthony, and the NWSA, yet she ultimately became convinced that reunification of the suffrage movement was in the best interest of all. In 1890 she assisted the merger of the NWSA and the AWSA into the National American Woman Suffrage Association, becoming the chair of its executive committee, but her failing health kept her close to home except for occasions that honored her pioneering suffrage activism. Her last public appearance took her to the Congress of Representative Women at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in May 1893. After she died at her home in Dorchester, Stone’s was the first body cremated in New England.

Lucy Stone was a key figure in the American woman’s rights movement for nearly a half century, bringing it from tutelage within the abolitionist movement to full organizational autonomy. Firmly committed to natural rights irrespective of sex, Stone maintained a distance from more controversial gender issues, such as divorce and free love. Instead, she worked tirelessly as lecturer, organizer, publisher, and tactician in pursuit of full legal equality, particularly the enfranchisement of women.

Bibliography

Major collections of Stone’s papers are held as part of the Blackwell Family Papers at both the Library of Congress and at the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Harvard University. Additional correspondence can be found in Patricia G. Holland and Ann D. Gordon, eds., Papers of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (1991), microfilm. Two published volumes include selected letters and helpful commentary: Leslie Wheeler, ed., Loving Warriors: Selected Letters of Lucy Stone and Henry B. Blackwell, 1853 to 1893 (1981), and Carol Lasser and Marlene Deahl Merrill, Friends and Sisters: Letters between Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, 1846–1893 (1987). Alice Stone Blackwell’s Lucy Stone (1930) is a daughter’s appreciative biography; Elinor Rice Hays, Morning Star: A Biography of Lucy Stone (1961), strikes the same tone. Ellen C. DuBois, Feminism and Suffrage: The Emergence of an Independent Women’s Movement in America, 1848–1869 (1978), provides an excellent account of Stone in the context of the Reconstruction schism in the woman’s rights movement. Andrea Moore Kerr, Lucy Stone: Speaking Out for Equality (1992), provides a speculative interpretation of Stone’s personal relations. Obituaries and tributes are in Woman’s Journal, 28 Oct. 1893.